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1. Review of March: Book Two

lewis_march bk 2star2 March: Book Two
by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell
Middle School, High School   Top Shelf Productions   192 pp.
1/15   978-1-60309-400-9   $19.95   g

Lewis and Aydin begin this second volume of the graphic memoir trilogy in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2009 (President Obama’s first inauguration), then they move back in time to 1960 to pick up where March: Book One (rev. 1/14) left off. Dramatic descriptions and vivid black-and-white illustrations of SNCC’s direct action campaigns in Nashville (sit-ins at fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, “stand-ins” at a segregated movie theater) are followed by accounts of the Freedom Rides into the “heart of the beast” in the Deep South, and on through the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, where Lewis spoke alongside Dr. King. (Back matter includes the original draft of Lewis’s speech, a more fiery, radical version of the speech he delivered, a debate about which took place up to the moment he stepped onstage.) Since this is Lewis’s personal story, the account has the authority of a passionate participant, and the pacing ramps up tension and historical import. Events and personalities aren’t romanticized in the text or the illustrations, which themselves don’t flinch from violence; in addition to exploring the dream that drove the civil rights movement, the story also portrays its divisions. Flash-forwards to Barack Obama’s inauguration appear judiciously throughout, an effective reminder to readers about the effects of the movement. Among the many excellent volumes available on the subject of civil rights this is a standout, the graphic format a perfect vehicle for delivering the one-two punch of powerful words and images.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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2. Guess who came to dinner: James Patterson in Australia

There is a media and reader buzz about James Patterson, the world’s biggest selling author, who is in Australia at the moment. It was announced on Tuesday that Patterson is giving grants of $500 to $5000 to independent bookshops in Australia and New Zealand, to a total of $100,000. This is an extremely generous gift […]

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3. Screaming at the Ump, by Audrey Vernick | Book Review

Screaming at the Ump will appeal to both boys and girls who are interested in sports (especially baseball), and journalism, coping with the transition to middle school, or dealing with family conflicts.

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4. Fearless females

From an aspiring journalist to an up-and-coming roller derby grrl, the determined and curious female protagonists of these intermediate and middle-school books are ready to take on the world.

springstubb_moonpenny islandIn Tricia Springstubb’s Moonpenny Island, the titular tiny Ohio vacation spot is lousy with fossils — specifically, of trilobites from the Cambrian period. Sixth-grade townie Flor becomes fascinated with trilobites’ eyes after learning they were “among the very first creatures” to develop them. Flor herself is, in some ways, as sightless as early trilobites, for she misses much of what’s going on in her family and in her interconnected island community. Flor’s growing awareness of those around her results in a unique protagonist who, like a fossil, creates an imprint that remains after her story is finished. (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 9–12 years)

birdsall_penderwicks in springJeanne Birdsall‘s fourth Penderwicks book, The Penderwicks in Spring, focuses on Batty, now ten and the “senior member of the younger Penderwick siblings.” To raise money for singing lessons, she starts a neighborhood odd-jobs business. There’s a lot of melancholy here: dog-walking sadly reminds Batty of her dear departed Hound, and she suffers benign neglect from one big sister (Rosalind is temporarily boy-crazy) and hurtful words from another. On the plus side, stepbrother Ben (seven) and half-sister Lydia (two), in their cheering-up efforts, emerge as formidable Penderwicks themselves, and Batty rewardingly finds her voice at her climactic Grand Eleventh Birthday Concert. (Knopf, 9–12 years)

vaught_footer davis probably is crazyAt the start of Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy by Susan Vaught, eleven-year-old Footer Davis’s mother, who has bipolar disorder, is admitted to a psychiatric hospital after shooting off an elephant rifle in their backyard. To distract herself from her mother’s worsening condition, budding journalist Footer (with aspiring-detective best friend Peavine) investigates a dramatic unsolved local crime. Footer’s lively narrative voice and irreverent sense of humor add levity to the heavy subject matter. Like its heroine, the book itself is compelling, offbeat, and fearless. (Simon/Wiseman, 9–12 years)

jamieson_roller girlWhen her best friend Nicole starts harping on about ballet, fashion, and dating, twelve-year-old Astrid, star of Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novel Roller Girl, is left behind (read: not interested). She’s behind on the roller derby track, too, where she has signed up for summer boot camp even though she can’t skate five seconds without disaster. Astrid faces the challenges of derby as well as tweendom, and when the time comes for her big end-of-summer bout, “Asteroid” is brimming with confidence and ready to roll. Readers will identify with Astrid’s journey to find her authentic self. Have this book at the ready for Telgemeier fans racing to find something new. (Dial, 9–12 years)

From the April 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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5. Jack & Louisa Act 1, by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Weterhead

Jack can't believe that he is moving from New York City to a suburb of Cleveland!  He knows that it's where his dad is from, and that work is bringing him there, but for a kid city born and raised, the suburb and its stand alone houses aren't exactly familiar territory for him.  His parents know he's feeling down when an offer of listening to the Into The Woods soundtrack is turned down.

Louisa is just coming down from being at Camp Curtain Up (theater camp if you can't tell) with the other MTNs (musical theater nerds).  As she and her parents pull into their driveway, they notice that the new family is moving in two doors down.  Louisa notices that the kid looks about her age, and then suddenly she notices his tshirt.  It's from the musical Mary Poppins! This is a very interesting development. After all, up until now, Louisa was the only MTN in her grade!

If Louisa only knew! Jack's dad's job wasn't the only reason they were moving to Cleveland.  Jack had lost a job himself. He is a theater kid, and not too long ago he was cast in the musical The Big Apple.  And not in a bit part either.  He was super excited to be part of the cast...until the first rehearsal.  Jack is going into 7th grade, and his voice was changing. The notes no longer came easily...and sometimes they didn't come at all.  So Jack was no longer first choice for the role.  Which obviously made leaving NYC a heck of a lot easier.

In this age of google, Louisa finds out about Jack pretty quickly.  And seeing as they are in the same class at school, she figures they are pretty much meant to be friends since they have so much in common.  But Jack is thinking about reinvention.  It's pretty easy to be a theater kid and be a boy in NYC, but in Cleveland he figures his soccer skills will make his life easier than his singing and dancing skills.

Sometimes, however, it's hard to turn off what you really love.  And when the community theater announces it's putting on one of Jack's favorite shows of all time, will he be able to resist the call of the stage (let alone Louisa's influence)?

This is a pitch perfect middle school story that's not simply about theater, but drills down into issues of family, friendship and being true to oneself.  Keenan-Bolger and Wetherhead get the voices spot on without ever venturing into over-the-top Glee caricatures.  The alternating voices go back and forth in time, but are never confusing, rather a great device for giving the back story in pieces instead of one big chunk.  Fans of Federle will eat this up, as will fans of realistic fiction and musical theater.

Super fun.

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6. Review of Listen, Slowly

lai_listen slowlyListen, Slowly
by Thanhhà Lại
Intermediate, Middle School   Harper/HarperCollins   260 pp.
2/15   978-0-06-222918-2   $16.99

This second novel from National Book Award winner Lại (Inside Out and Back Again, rev. 3/11) grabs readers from the start. California girl Mai is on a plane, accompanying Ba, her grandmother, on a trip to Vietnam. Mai, who planned to spend her summer at the beach flirting with “HIM,” the boy she has a crush on, is furious. Her dad says Ba needs her support — a detective has claimed he has news about Ong, Ba’s husband, who went missing during the Vietnam War — but the self-absorbed tween is still outraged. Lại convincingly shows Mai’s slow transformation from spoiled child to someone who can look beyond herself with compassion. Mai’s change of heart is believable, moving in fits and starts and taking its own sweet time; she retains her sarcastic sense of humor, but her snark gradually loses its bite, and she begins laughing at herself more than others. The heartbreaking sorrow of Ba’s, and Vietnam’s, past is eased some by the novel’s comical elements (a Vietnamese teen who learned English in the U.S. — and drawls like a Texan; a cousin who carries her enormous pet bullfrog with her everywhere). The detailed descriptions of Mai’s culture shock and acclimation bring the hot and humid Vietnamese setting, rural and urban, to life. Her strong-willed personality makes her an entertaining narrator; readers will happily travel anywhere with Mai.

From the March/April issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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7. Behind the Scenes at the White House: A Q&A with Nonfiction Author Katherine L. House

Just in time for Presidents' Day, I chatted with nonfiction author Katherine L. House about her recent book, White House for Kids. Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of her book.

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8. Review of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

kamkwamba_boy who harnessed the windThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition
by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer; illus. by Anna Hymas
Intermediate, Middle School   Dial   294 pp.
2/15   978-0-8037-4080-8   $16.99   g

As a young boy growing up in Malawi, William Kamkwamba believed in — and was fearful of — magic. As he got a bit older, he was drawn to science. He tinkered with toy trucks and “monster wagons” (“chigiriri, that looked like American go-carts”) and began reading old science books and dreaming up inventions. When heavy rains, followed by drought, hit his country and the corrupt government didn’t respond, young William used his scientific ingenuity to help people in need. He began making a windmill out of “bottle-cap washers, rusted tractor parts, and [an] old bicycle frame,” and, to the amazement of family and community, it was a success. Soon he dreamed of conquering darkness, pumping water to the villages, and fighting hunger. This young readers’ edition of the bestselling adult memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope (already adapted as a picture book by the same name) has been simplified for a middle-grade audience, unfortunately losing some of the lyricism of the original. (Chapter one in the adult version opens, “Before I discovered the miracles of science, magic ruled the world.” Chapter one here begins, “My name is William Kamkwamba, and to understand the story I’m about to tell, you must first understand the country that raised me.”) Both versions have a straightforward narrative arc: because of the book’s prologue, readers know that William’s wind machine will be successful and that they, the readers, are to be inspired. And it is inspiring — a well-told true tale of one young man’s passion for science making his world better.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. Review of Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

lowery_turning 15 on the road to freedomTurning 15 on the Road to Freedom:
My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March

by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley; illus. by PJ Loughran
Middle School, High School   Dial   128 pp.
1/15   978-0-8037-4123-2   $19.99   g

Lowery offers a revealing look at a childhood spent in the midst of the civil rights movement. As a teenager, the Selma, Alabama, native was there to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak out for black voting rights; she was tear-gassed and beaten on “Bloody Sunday” (as Lowery writes, in perhaps the understatement of the century, “It was not a good day to be around white people”); and she was among the three hundred people who marched from Selma to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery in 1965. Lowery’s voice is consistently engaging (“After that first time [in jail], I wasn’t so afraid, because I was with my buddies and we knew we had each other’s back. What we could do with each other’s backs, I don’t know. Those white policemen had billy clubs and guns”) and casual even as she parcels out often-harrowing memories (such as her time spent in the jail’s “sweatbox”: “There was no air…There was no toilet…There was nothing but heat in an iron box”). Period photos are incorporated seamlessly into the book design, and Loughran captures the emotions of the times with boldly colored illustrations. An epilogue of sorts — “Why Voting Rights?” — gives an excellent explanation of the significance of the right to vote for African Americans while making mention of the Supreme Court’s controversial 2013 changes to the Voting Rights Act. A strong addition to the canon of civil rights books for young people.

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10. Novels to supplement history | Part 1

This year, I started a new role as the 8th grade Humanities teacher. I began the school year with an ambitious “Novels of the World” plan that would flawlessly integrate every Common Core standard in Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking along with the world history.

Then reality hit me in the throat.

I realized that even though I’m technically teaching “English Language Arts,” the colorful demographics of my class means I am also unofficially teaching a lot of English Language Development. I started noticing that in the mushy realm of “middle school humanities,” history ends up getting the shorter end of the stick — probably because English is more heavily tested than history. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to choose which area to skimp, but this is reality.

So, to make sure that some history gets into each ELA lesson (and to provide yet another lens for students to learn history), I correlate the novels I teach with the history unit. There are also times when I can’t devote that much time or depth to the history unit. In those cases, I give book talks to let my students know about different leveled books available for their enjoyment.

Below are books in bold that I’ve personally used either in whole-class or small group instruction.* There are also books that I’ve included that I plan to use in the future. Also, as I compiled the list, I realized this post was getting too long, so I’ll have the second half up next month!


Anna of ByzantiumByzantine Empire

Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett
To be honest, this book was difficult. I had to explain much context and there were not too many exciting plot jumps. My students were still curious, but I would say that this would be a more advanced reading level and probably not the best way to start the year. It was great, however, for teaching figurative language, point of view, and character development. Anna is also a great female protagonist, and there are many teachable moments throughout the book.

 


One Thousand and One Arabian NightsRise of Islam

One Thousand and One Arabian Nights by Geraldine McCaughrean
This is one of my favorite books. Although the reading level is a bit lower, the text is complex especially for students who do not have an understanding of the Arabian peninsula. This is a frame-tale narrative so students are able to practice looking at plot structure, setting, character development, theme, and figurative language. This book is full of similes and personification. I differentiated by reading some stories together as a class and expecting extra stories from more advanced readers. I have actually started 7th grade with this book twice now.


SundiataWest Africa

Sundiata: Lion King of Mali by David Wisniewski
So yes, according to the Horn Book Guide, this is meant for K-3. But this book is gorgeous, and I hope to use this and a few other Sundiata narratives to help my students grasp an understanding of the African narrative style and create their own historically accurate play.

 


The Ghost In the Tokaido InnMedieval Japan

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
This is a fun mystery that takes place in 18th century Japan. Students clearly enjoyed seeing what they learned about samurai, dishonorable samurai, and the Code of Bushido coming alive in this fast-paced chapter book. I focused on mainly covering suspense, setting, and characterization here.

 

The Samurai's TaleThe Samurai’s Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard
I have only read an excerpt and it seems a bit more high level. I could see this book being very engaging, however, as it starts with quite a lot of action, betrayal, and suspense in the first chapter.

 

•   •   •

In my next post, I will list the books I’ve used for China, South America, Feudal Europe, Renaissance, and the Age of Exploration. Have you used any of these books before? Am I missing some must-have gems? Let me know by commenting below!

*In California, middle school spends one year learning about medieval to modern world history. It usually consists of the fall of Rome, the Byzantine Empire’s rise, the Arabian Peninsula and Islam, West Africa, Medieval Japan and China, South America, and then Europe, Europe, and lots more Europe.

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11. On Bullying

I know I've written about bullying before, but recent events have hurt someone dear to me. Please forgive. I'm starting this at 4-something in the morning because I'm mad. In my neck of the woods, we sometimes say "pissed" when one is this mad. Not "pissed" drunk like our friends across the pond, but "pissed off."

I am.

I'm tried of bullies. I'm tired of them at my job as a middle school/high school guidance counselor and I'm tired of the unfortunate reality that bullies exist as adults, too. Once upon a time, I believed in some fairy tale version of adulthood in which all the bullies matured and shed their evil skin. Like all fairy tales, this one is fiction.

Bullies are everywhere and every age, and if they've shed any skin, it's only to grown a more insidious one in its place. 

The bullies at school are sneaky. A teacher turns away and one boy punches another. They wait until I pass during lunch duty, and call their target names. In many ways, the girls are worst. I could relate scores of personal examples from my job, and it wouldn't take much to do a simple Google search and find stacks of digital articles on the subject.

Females--girls and grown women--like to do their bullying in different ways than boys. They often ostracize and exclude. They post hideous untruths online and laugh when their target's life falls apart. They've found ways to belittle via social media I shudder to recall. The motives are varied, but one constant keeps surfacing: if one is the bully, it steers attention to someone else. In the bully's mind, as long as someone else is the target, it's not her.

It hurts me to watch the cruelty at my job and hurts me in my neighborhood. Yes, my neighborhood lives in the shadow of a bully and I'm tried of it. Just like the girls at school, adult bullies ostracize and exclude. They manipulate and maneuver to make sure the target is not them. Sometimes the cruelty wears the most subtle cloak--for example, repeatedly leaving someone's name off a mailing list about neighborhood activities.

I was the target of bullying in middle school. The ride from my school to the high school for band class in 7th grade was especially agonizing. We would load the unsupervised bus--because let's be honest about the driver's ability to both drive and make sure passengers weren't being douche bags--and take a five minute jaunt from one school to the other. I heard "fag" and "gay" more times than I could count during those five minutes. A group of boys a year or two older than me would hound me after school during an arduous walk home. The walk was only four blocks, but it felt like four hundred.

Sometimes I feel so powerless when confronted with bullying at my job. It's especially difficult as an adult in my own neighborhood. No one--not one living creature--has the right to make anyone else feel like those ass hats made me feel in middle school. It turns my stomach that so many continue their cruelty long after the bus engine has gone cold.

So what do we do? Talk about it... write about it. Stand up and be counted among those who will not tolerate such behavior. There are more victims than bullies, and like most forms of darkness, this one cannot stand the light.

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12. Best New Kids Stories | January 2015

Popular series, a new addition to the American Girl conglomerate, and a Disney Frozen book make this month's selection of best new kids books totally a kids' choice list!

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13. Review of Gracefully Grayson

polonsky gracefully grayson Review of Gracefully GraysonGracefully Grayson
by Ami Polonsky
Intermediate, Middle School    Hyperion    247 pp.
11/14    978-1-4231-8527-7    $16.99

Grayson, a sixth grader at Porter Middle School, passes the time doodling and daydreaming about what it would be like to go through life as a girl, despite being seen by everyone else as male. Struggling with the total isolation that comes with harboring a secret, Grayson keeps people at a distance until Amelia moves to town. The two develop a friendship that awakens Grayson’s need for companionship and acceptance. When that friendship falls apart, Grayson tries out for (and lands) the female lead in the school play as a means of testing out a female persona. Facing abuse and derision from classmates and resistance from members of her adoptive family (both birth parents were killed years before), Grayson fights for the right to present her truest self to the people around her — both on and off the stage. Luckily, an invested teacher and several open-minded cast mates offer understanding and support as Grayson begins to sort out the complexities of her own identity. Polonsky captures the loneliness of a child resigned to disappear rather than be rejected, and then the courageous risk that child eventually takes to be seen for who she is. The first-person narration successfully positions readers to experience Grayson’s confusion, fear, pain, and triumphs as they happen, lending an immediate and intimate feel to the narrative.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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14. One Crazy Summer

williamsgarcia onecrazysummer 198x300 One Crazy SummerOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
In the “crazy summer” of 1968, three black sisters set out from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to reconnect with their estranged mother, an active member of the Black Panther political movement. How does Williams-Garcia balance historical events with the girls’ personal journeys? How do both these aspects of the historical novel interact?

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15. No Crystal Stair

Nelson Crystal Stair 212x300 No Crystal StairNo Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Documents, photos, fictionalized and true accounts of historical figures and events are woven together in this portrait of Nelson’s larger-than-life great uncle Lewis Michaux. What to you make of the blending of elements and genres in this work (which I described as “defying categorization” when presenting the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction in 2012)?

 

Note from Lolly: Here is a link to Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s and R. Gregory Christie’s acceptance speeches when this book won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award:

YouTube video
Print version

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16. Review of Because They Marched

freeman because they marched Review of Because They MarchedBecause They Marched:
The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America

by Russell Freedman
Middle School    Holiday    83 pp.
8/14    978-0-8234-2921-9    $20.00
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-3263-9    $20.00

With characteristically clear prose sprinkled liberally with primary source quotes and carefully selected photographs, Freedman documents the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march that featured the horrific Bloody Sunday confrontation between the marchers and the Alabama state troopers. Captured on television footage by all the major networks, these events convinced the nation — and Congress — that something finally had to be done. That something turned out to be the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement.” Freedman’s introduction is particularly effective because it focuses on the teachers’ march to the courthouse to register as a major trigger for the movement: “For the first time, a recognized professional group from Selma’s black community had carried out an organized protest.” If the book is not quite as visually striking as its notable predecessor, Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom (rev. 11/09), nor as invested in the youth participation, its later publication date allows the book to touch on the controversial 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. A timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, and an index are appended.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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17. Review of The Cabinet of Curiosities

bachmann cabinet of curiosities Review of The Cabinet of CuriositiesThe Cabinet of Curiosities:
36 Tales Brief & Sinister

by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, 
and Emma Trevayne;
illus. by Alexander Jansson
Middle School    Greenwillow    488 pp.
6/14    978-0-06-233105-2    $16.99

Four “curators” — Bachmann, Catmull, Legrand, and Trevayne — travel to lands peregrine and outré to fill their Cabinet of Curiosities museum, sending back grotesqueries and objects of wonder as well as the tales behind them — tales that often bend to the tenebrous and unearthly. The table of contents lists the Cabinet’s “rooms” and “drawers,” each with a theme (cake, luck, tricks, flowers) and four or five tales to explore. In “The Cake Made Out of Teeth” (“collected by” Legrand) a spoiled-rotten boy must finish an entire cake made in his image, despite the sensation of teeth chewing him up with every bite. “Lucky, Lucky Girl” (Catmull) stars a young woman whose good luck seems to depend on the very bad luck of the people around her. In “Plum Boy and the Dead Man” (Bachmann), a rich and opinionated lad has a conversation with a corpse hanging from a tree…and ends up unwillingly changing places with the victim. “The Book of Bones” (Trevayne) features Eleanor Entwhistle, a plucky girl whose courage halts the work of a grave-robbing sorcerer. The stories are remarkable both for their uniformly high quality and for their distinctness from one another; the abundant atmospherics, including occasional stark black-and-white illustrations, provide a unifying sense of dread. The framing device — the curators send letters from the field introducing their latest discoveries — adds depths of mystery, danger, and idiosyncrasy to a book already swimming in each.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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18. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus - good bye and thank you


Angleberger, Tom. 2014. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus. Recorded Books.

Sometimes you get lucky. I've had the opportunity to meet Tom Angleberger several times (including a Skype visit with my book club), I've had an enthusiastic group of Origami Yoda fans that frequent my library, and most recently, I won a copy of Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus from Recorded Books (more on that in a minute).

Since the first time I read and reviewed The Strange Case of Origami in 2010, I've been a fan, and so have legions of kids.  In addition to the fact that Tom Angleberger's writing style is perceptive, relevant, and flat-out funny; he, himself, is a great part of his success.  Just check his website, or his presence on Twitter (@origamiyoda).  He is unfailingly polite, positive, and accessible.  Kids love him and he loves them right back.

     

Back to Emperor Pickletine... so, I entered the Recorded Books contest because I hoped to win something for my book club members. With rare exception, after I've read them, I give away any book I receive gratis. Lucky me!  Not only did I receive the audio book, I received an Emperor Pickletine standee, some origami paper, and the biggest hit of all - pickle stickers - and boy, did they stink!

I was a little unsure about an audio book version of an illustrated book, however.  Would it be as good?  How can a narrator explain a comic? Will kids like it?

I discovered that, yes, it is as good.  The Origami Yoda books are written as "case files" with multiple students from  McQuarrie Middle School contributing to each file. The audio book version enhances that format because there is a cast of narrators, making it easy to differentiate between the student contributors.  

It's difficult to explain exactly how the printed illustrations from the book are narrated, because I don't have a transcript, but I can assure you that they retain their humor and flow easily into the narrative.  I was pleasantly surprised by this.

Will kids like it?  My book club meets next week, but I already have two kids who have let me know that they are already audio book fans.  I'm sure they'll like it. I did.

In the final chapter, Origami Yoda (voiced by none other than Tom Angleberger himself!) is heard to say,
"The end this is not,"  
however, this is the end of the series. And yes, you will find out if Origami Yoda is indeed real.  

A fond farewell, Origami Yoda!  You'll be sorely missed.

My reviews of other Tom Angleberger books:

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19. Same theme, different level

It’s a new year with new kids! I’m working with the same population, but the way this school deals with the social and emotional components of learning is amazing. With that said, I have a group of 8th graders who are very low-level readers. It was a bit surprising because most of them are articulate and fluent, but it turns out that academically, their language level is quite low.

Right now, I am preparing my literature circles and have been looking through books that hit relevant topics, such as bullying, abuse, and coming of age. Unfortunately, it looks like the books I had last year are a bit too high for this year’s group. Last year, I had a few of my kids read Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and Leila Sales’s This Song Will Save Your Life. Both the boys and the girls were understandably thrilled by the titles and read them avidly. It led to many interesting discussions.

flake skin 199x300 Same theme, different levelWith this year’s group, however, I am not certain about being able to introduce those books. Or at least, I’d have to wait until the end of the year. However, our interests were piqued by another book that addresses the same issue of bullying, but has a lower reading level: The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. This book centers on Maleeka Madison, a middle-school girl who is the target of widespread bullying. Although the reading level is low, the subject matter is not, and Flake’s way of deftly introducing us to the key characters and issues is both satisfying and quick!

I know there are other books about bullying and peer pressure (many by Jerry Spinelli and Walter Dean Myers), but I think something about Maleeka really resonated with my students. Perhaps they are better able to relate to the context and issues that arise in The Skin I’m In than in the others. Regardless, my students and I are definitely huge fans!

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20. El Deafo

eldeafo El DeafoThis week, I was lucky enough to have a thirty-minute window when I could pop into my favorite independent bookstore in Los Angeles. They have a large children’s section on the second floor that I love perusing because they do an excellent job at getting new books.

On one of their displays sat El Deafo by Cece Bell. Intrigued first by the illustration of a superhero bunny and second by the title, my immediate thought was “What is this book about and who is this written for?” As if by fate, a children’s book worker looked up from her task of stocking new books and said “Oh that’s a really cute story. I highly recommend it.” I inquired about the reading level and she said it could be from fourth grade to middle school. Opening it, I was stoked to find out it was a graphic novel. Sold. It may be one of the best impulsive $20 I’ve spent of late.

I read this book in two days. It follows the author’s childhood experiences of being deaf, and specifically highlights her experiences in school. What captured me was the depiction of how people treated her and, since it’s from Cece’s point of view, how she felt. Her emotions come through strongly in the text and illustrations, and made me stop and think about how I treat people even if my intention is good. I connected with Cece’s superhero persona, “El Deafo.” Cece uses El Deafo to imagine the ideal way to handle tough situations, even if that doesn’t play out in real life (something I did as a kid too). What I really loved about this book was how the author depicted her friendships with the other kids (the good and the bad). It reminded me that children can sometimes do really mean things but that most of the time they mean well and can be really amazing friends to each other. It’s a lesson I need to carry for the school year.

Cece’s journey starts at the age of four and ends in fifth grade, so as a fifth grade teacher, I’m very excited to bring this graphic novel to my classroom. I think the students will enjoy this book and learn a lot from it. I believe that it will carry lessons of tolerance and respect for those who are hearing impaired, and prepare my students with tools (Don’t cover your mouth while someone is lip reading! Don’t assume all deaf people can sign!) to create meaningful and comfortable experiences with someone who can’t hear well.

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21. The Map Trap - a review

Move over, Frindle. A new classic has arrived!

Below is my review of The Map Trap by Andrew Clements, as it appeared in the October, 2014, edition of School Library Journal.

CLEMENTS, Andrew. The Map Trap. 2 CDs. 2:29 hrs. S. & S. Audio. 2014. $14.99. ISBN 9781442357013. digital download.

Gr 3-6 -- Alton Ziegler is crazy about maps. He particularly loves the way they can visually display any manner of information in a variety of ways. Surreptitiously, he collects data and creates humorous maps detailing such trivia as the popularity of lunchroom tables (depicted as a topographical map of the cafeteria) or a weather map of a teacher's clothes. Striped tie today? Look out -- the probability of a pop quiz is high. He never meant for anyone to see his collection, but when it's "mapnapped," there's no telling where the road might lead. Keith Nobbs is perfectly cast as the narrator. He creates a pensive Alton that fits the mood of the story. Clements's (In Harm's Way) use of subjective third-person narration is interesting in that the listener is privy to the inner concerns not only of Alton but of his teacher Miss Wheeling as well. Rarely is a teacher's perspective presented with such honesty and clarity in a middle grade novel. Though Nobbs's voice sometimes cracks when portraying female characters, his delivery, nonetheless, is still pleasing and believable. The Map Trap is a thoughtful, holistic look at the middle school environment that will have wide appeal. 

Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.


The publisher's website contains an audio and a printed excerpt from The Map Trap, as well as a video with author, Andrew Clements.

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22. The Thing About Luck

kadohata thingaboutluck 197x300 The Thing About LuckIn The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, Summer has important duties to fulfill as the daughter and granddaughter of migrant harvest workers, and she must also meet the daily demands of her traditional Japanese grandparents. Summer’s multi-generational family and their lives as agricultural workers are facets of contemporary American culture that may be unfamiliar to many young readers — or adults for that matter. How does Kadohata invite all readers into Summer’s story while maintaining her family’s distinct experience and perspective? What surprised, delighted, or intrigued you most about Summer, Jaz, Obaachan, and Jiichan?

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23. Windows and mirrors book discussion

Lauren had her first adolescent lit class last night at HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education). For last night’s class we talked about How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I love this part of a course when the students go from names and faces on a roster to real people with opinions about books. Lauren gave an excellent overview of literature for adolescents: the history, the jargon, the genres.

oct27readings Windows and mirrors book discussion

For next Monday’s class the theme is Windows & Mirrors and they will all read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. For their second book, they have a choice between Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck. Tough choice!

Please join us as we discuss these books before Monday evening’s class. Things tend to pick up steam later in the week, but we like to put up the posts early for those who are reading ahead.

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24. Review of Into the Grey

kiernan into the grey Review of Into the GreyInto the Grey
by Celine Kiernan
Middle School, High School    Candlewick    295 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-7061-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7409-0    $16.99

When their home burns down, twin teens Patrick and Dominick move with their family to the shabby seaside cottage where they usually spend summer holidays. Almost at once, Pat sees that Dom is being haunted by the ghost of a young boy, while Pat himself is visited by nightmares of a soldier drowning in the muddy trenches of World War I. Eventually Dom is utterly possessed by Francis, the ghost of a boy who died of diphtheria decades ago, and Pat is desperate to do what he can to retrieve his brother. Family and local history come together as the twisting plot makes its way toward resolution: another pair of twin brothers, a senile grandmother, Irish lads turned British soldiers, and a series of surreal dreams and psychic landscapes all fall into place. Sometimes Kiernan’s storytelling is fraught and overdrawn; at its best it is confident, pungent, and poetic. Family love, loyalty, and protectiveness are palpable in a well-drawn cast of characters, and the pace is frequently galvanized with energetic drama and dialogue pierced with Irish dialect.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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25. Review of Strike!

brimner strike Review of Strike!Strike!:
The Farm Workers’
Fight for Their Rights
by Larry Dane Brimner
Intermediate, Middle School    Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills    172 pp.
10/14    978-1-59078-997-1    $16.95

Brimner turns his attention from one part of the 1960s — the civil rights movement in the South (Black & White) — to another, a parallel movement among migrant farm workers in the Southwest for better wages and working conditions. This comprehensive history traces California’s burgeoning need for farm workers in the twentieth century, and the often-
forgotten early contribution of Filipino Americans to this particular labor movement, before transitioning to the more familiar story of César Chávez, the United Farm Workers of America, and the Delano grape workers strike. Finally, Brimner ponders Chávez’s last years, death, and legacy — and the diminished role of the UFW today. It can be challenging to track all of the players in this drama, let alone the acronyms for various unions and such, but Brimner’s compelling narrative, complete with both textual and visual primary sources, is up to the task. The layout is inviting with swatches of green and purple to complement the dominant black-and-white color scheme and well-placed maps and photos, while brief Spanish translations of selected quotes, titles, and epigraphs are incorporated. An author’s note, a timeline, bibliography, source notes, and an index are appended.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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